Day 7 cntd (April 25th 2009)
The Friend at Hand (Russell Square) ½ Pride, ½ Bombardier, ½ Old Speckled Hen £4.40
We might have knocked this one off on our very first day, had it not been for the first of the many sets of engineering works that we didn’t expect on this tour. Still, Russell Square was properly open again now, so we thought we’d give it a whirl. We came out of the station feeling like true explorers – pioneers if you will – only Lewis and West, instead of Lewis and Clark (which would presumably make Hazel Sacagewea, our plucky Native American interpreter). We had no firm plans in hand, and were relying purely on our cunning, skill, dodgy memories and natural abilities to sniff out any nearby booze as we searched for the closest pub. This fine combination of attributes was paying off immediately as we made it to The Friend at Hand in less than two minutes flat.
It’s a traditional pub – part of the giant Spirit Group – and was a fairly ordinary one at that. These places usually do a decent ale range and more often than not they keep their beer really well. We were slightly surprised, then, that there were only three ales on, but what there was tasted pretty good. We looked around at the familiar wood panelling, faded wallpaper and hallucination inducing carpets and decided that it could probably do with a little bit of TLC. There was a usual TV screen in the corner showing Sky Sports News, and a very basic looking menu on one wall and various cards around the tables. Despite the fact that the look of the place really wasn’t that exciting, it was definitely popular – busy, bustling and full of atmosphere, it was one of the busiest pubs we’d been to today.
Mind you, it was about 8.30 by this point, so it had every right to be busy. Then Keith noticed that it was indeed 8.30pm, but it was still light outside – yet another joyous indicator that summer was on its way! Seriously, when you are on a marathon as big as the one we were undertaking, you’re allowed to get excited about these small things.
The Tottenham (Tottenham Court Road) ½ Bombardier, ½ Spring Cottage Biscuit, 1 x bt Corona £7.35
No need to use any sort of skill and cunning to find the nearest pub at Tottenham Court Road – it’s basically waving at you from the other side of Oxford Street as you come out of the station. Hello there!
The Tottenham is a Nicholson’s pub, and it definitely seemed to be more into its ales than the Friend at Hand. It had six hand pumps along the main bar, and although only four of them were on at this point, there were little signs on the other two helpfully informing us that there was beer settling downstairs and just waiting to be perfect. The stuff we had was in pretty good condition, and Keith was particularly interested in the wonderfully named Spring Cottage Biscuit – although I’m sure this is partly due to the fact that it is brewed in Caerphilly. The lure of the valleys is never too far away.
My learned colleague and I had both ended up in this pub before on different occasions, but I think this was the first time we had realised what a stunning room the main bar is. It has huge old mirrors on the walls, a lovely old bar down one side, and a seriously ornate ceiling which comes complete with chandeliers and a decorative glass cupola towards the back (I can’t begin to tell you how rare glass cupolas have been on the tour so far). It all looked like it should have been the drawing room from some vast stately home – only with a bar attached. The classic decor was only slightly affected by the fact that they had a load of St George’s Day bunting hanging around the place, obviously from a promotion/event they’d had earlier in the week. It falls on April 23rd, since you ask. Same as Shakespeare’s Birthday.
A quick discussion between myself, Keith and Hazel followed, and we decided to head up to Goodge Street next. Before we could go anywhere though, we received a morale boosting phone call – the team was about to be boosted up to a magnificent four for the last few pubs of the evening, as Liam – another battle scarred veteran from a previous campaign – announced that he would be with us in 10 minutes or so. It’s always useful to bring in reinforcements for the home stretch…..
The Hope (Goodge Street) ½ Bombardier, ½ Landlord, ½ Guinness, 1 x Pint Stella £7.90
He made good on his word as well. We arrived at Goodge Street, looked around hopelessly for a minute or so, sniffed the air, opened our ears and quickly deduced that there was a pub called The Hope a hundred yards or so round the back of the station. We had been in there no more than thirty seconds or so when Mr Waugh bowled in and requested his usual pint of Stella to get him going.
It was a nice pub too, small-ish, set on a corner and very simply laid out. It being Saturday night, there was some fairly thumping music echoing round the room, and a TV in one corner showing some Spanish league football. As we ordered our drinks we thought about how lovely it was that they had put out a buffet dinner for us, especially when they didn’t know we were coming. It obviously caused some jealousy amongst the other punters though, since they started giving us some seriously funny looks as we ate – especially that lady wearing the giant Happy Birthday badge……..oh.
We made our peace as best we could, and turned back to the other features of the pub. They had four real ales on, and the ones we tasted were in excellent nick. They also had a good looking menu on, including a “Sausage of the Week” offer – this week’s selection was Wild Boar and Apple. Although, as Keith pointed out, if it is being used to make sausages for a catering company supplying London pubs, how wild can the boar actually be? (“Wild? He was bloody furious!” I hear you cry, with the familiar drum/cymbal crash). Time to leave.